of the soil in a chicken pen. I went inside and dug it up. Most was missing but the bit
with the bearings was still intact.
It was an amazing piece of luck . The casing was corroded and had to be cracked
open before we could get to the bearings . They were taken out, soaked in kerosene
and packed with grease. I installed them and they performed flawlessly on the 2000
kilometre drive back to Townsville . Later, when replacing them, in the comfort of my
home, I broke one of the brushes that transmit current to the commutator . My car was
out of action and I had to ask friends to give me a lift to work.
In retrospect, I feel foolish for taking children on such a trip. My bush skills got us
out of a lot of trouble but things could have worked out differently.
18 Crocodile farming
When I was a boy the thought of farming crocs never occurred to me. My
grandparents had a farm in Lincolnshire (England) and I stayed with them.
Cows and chickens were the main livestock. There wasn't a crocodile to be
I might have remained blissfully ignorant of the big reptile if I'd not got hooked on
astronomy at school. My fascination with the heavens led to a degree in astrophysics
and a precarious career as a stargazer. The demand for astronomers isn't high and I
was soon racking my brain for an alternative way to support my family.
A job as a Canberra bureaucrat provided stable employment but was boring. I
resigned and made my way north to the Australian tropics where I joined the staff of
James Cook University in Townsville as its press officer . I was soon writing articles on
subjects as varied as oral history, wind engineering and croc farming.
Now, it's one thing to write about exciting subjects. Getting involved is entirely
different. So, when my wife heard me talking about the soaring demand for crocodile
hides, she became alarmed. We were staying with my friend Luke on his property in
Queensland's northern gulf country.
I should explain that the term property is used to describe a stretch of land that
would be called a ranch in America. Luke's property was a quarter the size of Belgium
but don't think of him as fabulously rich. The huge area was worth no more than a few
moderately priced housing blocks in suburban Sydney.
The land was in Australia's savannah belt. In the monsoon season it floods. During
the remaining nine months of the year it goes from green to brown to black. The last
being when bush fires go through.
Luke was a grazier. He kept cattle and that was becoming increasingly difficult.
There was a time when he mustered on horseback and drove his animals to the
nearest railhead. Those days were gone. The government had embarked on a